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Since COPD is a long-term disease, early diagnosis is important to enable the commencement of treatment and management to slow its progression, avoid hospitalisations, reduce mortality (death) risk and optimise your quality of life.

COPD is typically diagnosed according to the presence of several factors. These include the presence of symptoms such as breathlessness (particularly on exertion), cough and sputum (phlegm), a history of smoking or exposure to other noxious agents, and a presence of impairment on lung function tests (spirometry demonstrating airflow limitation).

Diagnosing COPD takes into account:

Lung function tests (spirometry)

Level of breathlessness

Impact on activity and exercise

Presence of other co-existing medical conditions

Following a detailed clinical examination, your medical practitioner will order relevant investigations to help form an accurate diagnosis. This will typically involve completing some breathing tests known as lung function tests. This will almost certainly involve completing ‘spirometry‘ but may involve other tests depending on your individual circumstances. A short description of some of these is provided here. Watch the video demonstrating a spirometry test below.

Other tests your medical practitioner might order include:

Chest x-ray

Uses electromagnetic radiation to take pictures of the structures in and around your chest to detect easily identifiable issues

CT chest

Takes highly detailed pictures of the structures in and around your chest to allow close inspection of issues that may be hard to detect via chest x-ray

Arterial blood gas

A blood test that provides detailed information on how well your lungs are enabling oxygen to transfer into your blood and carbon dioxide to be removed from your blood

Laboratory tests

Various other tests may be performed to better understand other possible causes of your symptoms. E.g. exercise stress test, echocardiograph